Sunday, April 02, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/20/06)

Growing kale in Flagstaff is a lead-pipe cinch. As a cole crop, it is a cool season vegetable which makes it a fit for Flagstaff and the Colorado Plateau. Kale is hardy and grows best in the spring and the fall. It’s even sweeter after the first freeze in fall. The best time to plant it is in the early spring and the late summer. Some have even picked kale in the snow.

The most common variety is Red Russian Kale (Brassica napus), so named because of its color, not its political affiliation. As an heirloom vegetable, it precedes the rise of communism in Russia. As a matter of fact, it was first brought to North America by way of Canada about 1885 by Russian fur traders.

Close by the venerable Red Russian Kale is a cultivar called White Russian Kale (Brassica napus) whose name again has no political implications. During the Russian Civil War from 1918-21 the White Russian Army fought the Red Army of the Bolsheviks. They lost and Russia became communist. Also, a White Russian is also an alcoholic drink featuring vodka and kalua. Actually, White Russian kale is called white because it has white stems. It’s sweeter and hangs around longer than Red Russian kale, being hardy to 10 degrees F.

Nowadays, a more fashionable kale is Tuscan Kale (Brassica oleraceae) which promises a taste of sunny Italy. Delicious tasting, it is also decorative. An Italian Heirloom, it also goes by the names of Italian Lacinate Nero Toscana, Black Tuscan Kale, Dinosaur kale, and cavolo nero. Acclaimed in gourmet magazines, it has received the horticultural imprimaturs of Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, the gastronomic doyenne of The Hamptons.

For those of Scot’s heritage there is the Blue Scotch Curled Kale (Brassica oleracea acephala), a native of Great Britain. A favorite for soups and salads, it can also be used decoratively. Another fascinating kale is the Giant Walking Stick Kale (Brassica oleracea longata), a favorite amongst the Portugese. It grows to 7 feet tall. The leaves at top may be eaten as in the other kales, but the stem can be used for a walking stick. While growing, it will need a stake to support it. In the early winter months, it may be pulled and cut off at the base. After the cane has been dried, it can be polished and used as a walking stick. Seeds may be obtained from the Nichols Garden Nursery at or at 1-800-422-3985.

In addition to being used in soups, side dishes, and stir fry kale can also be used as greens in salads if the leaves are picked young. As cole crops, they can be planted by seed four to five weeks before the last frost. To get the jump on the spring, they can be started by seed indoors. They are best sown about 1/4 inch deep and 15 inches apart, except the Giant Walking Stick Kale which requires more space.

The pest to which kale is most vulnerable is the ubiquitous aphid. Dill, coriander, and bronze fennel planted near the kale draw insects that prey on aphids. Also, insecticidal soap or detergents work well if all the aphids are wetted, especially those on the underside of the leaves. Repeated treatments are necessary, and be sure to wash the leaves before cooking them.

Very nutritious and sweet tasting, kale is also quite attractive, offering differently colored varieties which makes it useful not only in a vegetable garden, but also desirable in the flower garden.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2006

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